Gareth MacHale's planned debut on the Belgian round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge has been put on hold.
Instead of heading for the Ypres Rally, where he was expected to introduce the new Super 2000 Opel Corsa to the IRC series in two weeks time, MacHale has opted to continue his challenge for the Irish Tarmac championship on the Topaz Donegal International which takes place on the same June 19/21 weekend.
The MSD-developed Corsa, in which the MacHale family has a financial stake, will still make its bow on the Belgian event, but will be driven by young Frenchman Alex Bengue.
MacHale, who is fourth in the Irish Tarmac standings, 18 points behind leader Eugene Donnelly, says he will decide on his plans for the rest of the season after Donegal.
"If Eugene wins in Donegal it will be hard to beat him to the Tarmac title in which case we will look at possible IRC outings in Russia and Italy," he said.
"The Barum Rally also clashes with the Ulster International so again the result in Donegal will decide what we do."
MacHale, still chasing his first win in the Tarmac series, heads a capacity Donegal entry in his Ford Focus with Donnelly at two in the Skoda Fabia in which he has won three of the four rounds so far this season.
Northern Ireland championship leader Derek McGarrity returns after missing the last two rounds and back too are two more top Ulster drivers, Glenn Allen and Sean Devine.
Both McGarrity and Allen, the 2007 NI champion, will be involved in tomorrow’s Mourne Rally based in Newry (9-30am start) but Richard Cathcart has been forced to withdraw.
The Enniskillen driver had planned to use the event as a warm-up for a potential Donegal appearance, but his Subaru, which suffered engine failure ahead of the Pirelli International, won’t be ready in time. Efforts to find a replacement car have also fallen through.
Cathcart is one of the few drivers to have won a NI championship round outright in a production car — the 2007 Down Rally — and his absence tomorrow throws the Group N category wide open.
Fellow Fermanagh man Raymond Johnston heads the production championship table from Mark Massey and Donagh Kelly but just 10 points cover the top six drivers who include Neil McCance who missed the first two rounds because of serious illness.
Top of the Donegal entry list: 1 Gareth McHale (Ford Focus), 2 Eugene Donnelly (Skoda Fabia), 3 Eamonn Boland (Subaru Impreza), 4 Tim McNulty (Subaru Impreza), 5 Derek McGarrity (Subaru Impreza), 6 Aaron McHale (Ford Focus), 7 PJ McDermott (Subaru Impreza), 8 Daniel Doherty (Subaru Impreza), 9 Shaun Gallagher (Mitsubishi Lancer N), 10 Seamus Leonard (Mitsubishi Lancer N), 11 Garry Jennings (Mitsubishi Lancer N), 12 Sean Devine (Subaru Impreza), 14 Glenn Allen (Toyota Corolla), 15 Damien Tourish (Mitsubishi Lancer N), 16 David Bogie (Metro 6R4).